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US Supremes Won't Hear Appeal of FCC's 2015 Net Neutrality Order

Jeff Baumgartner

The US Supreme Court has, in a 4-3 vote, declined to hear challenges to the FCC's 2015 network neutrality order that was adopted during the Obama administration under then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Two major telecom and cable trade groups associated with many of the nation's ISPs shrugged this off as being no big surprise.

Those rules, which aimed to regulate broadband like a utility under a Title II classification, were challenged by ISPs, but have since been rolled back by an Republican-led FCC run today by Chairman Ajit Pai, in a decision that took effect in June. The change fits with the deregulatory stance of the Trump administration. The Supreme Court essentially found that the rollback rendered any appeals moot. (See FCC Nixes Net Neutrality Rules on June 11 and FCC Nixes Net Neutrality Rules on June 11.)

The NCTA – The Internet & Television Association said it is "not surprising" that the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that went back to the Wheeler-era FCC. "Once the current FCC repealed the 2015 Order, almost all parties -- including NCTA -- agreed that the case was moot," the group said in its statement. "Today’s decision is not an indication of the Court’s views on the merits but simply reflects the fact that there was nothing left for the Court to rule on."

United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) president and CEO Jonathan Spalter, echoed that the SCOTUS's vote was expected, as the FCC's more recent Restoring Internet Freedom Order "remains the law of the land…USTelecom will continue to support that order from challenges in Washington, D.C. and state capitals."

Free Press cheered the SCOTUS vote, as it also denies a move to vacate the older network neutrality order.

"We're grateful that a majority of the justices saw through the flimsy arguments made by AT&T and Comcast lobbyists," Free Press policy director Matt Wood, said in a statement. "The ISPs went all out to push FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to repeal the agency's Net Neutrality rules -- and then ran to the Supreme Court looking for a do-over on earlier cases that rightly upheld those rules."

He said Free Press plans to file a final brief in a new appeal challenging the FCC rollback of the rules under Chairman Pai.

And that rollback is also under pressure from some US states that have voted on their own network neutrality bills or have them in the works.

California, which had voted on a tough new network neutrality law, has cut an agreement with the US Department of Justice and groups representing many US ISPs that delays enforcement of its law, which was on track to take effect next year. That agreement, which needs approval from the California district court, is effectively on hold while the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reviews and resolves the FCC's 2017 Restoring Internet Freedom Order. (See Deal Puts California's Tough Net Neutrality Law on Hold .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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